Friday, December 31, 2010

Dear Colin Firth

Who knew? Seriously. Don't get me wrong. I've been a fan since the days of Pride and Prejiduce, and the weight and discomfort you brought to the role of Mr. Darcy. I liked the way your eyes would shine when you smiled and lets face it, you did look pretty good coming out of that lake after your swim.

And then when you essentially replayed the same role in Bridgit Jones Diary. I was charmed. Perfect casting, really. And well, when you played the same role in St. Trinians, a movie, I suspect Rupert Everett strongarmed you into. And well, I hope it gave you a lovely addition to your house.

And then A single man came out, and you were perfect in it. A role that had some familiarity and a whole ton more depth than I'd seen from you before.

And then I went to see the King's speech. And again, you are playing a stodgy Englishman, but the depth you show, how you bring such wounded dignity to this man who stammers at the worst possible time.

It's a role I literally cannot picture anyone else in. I just had no idea you were so good. Sorry about underestimating you. Clearly I won't do it again. And it did help that you were surrounded by Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter, and that the script is pretty wonderful, but anyone else could have been simply good and you were spectacular.

Looking forward to your oscar speech.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

And back to world building...

Okay, I’ve talked about it and Sinead’s talked about it, but now I’m back to talking about it again. Sorry – but really it’s a topic that can stand a few posts. (I hope!)
I’m coming back to this again because I just bought this book where for me… it all goes wrong.

I had heard great things about this author and the series so I didn’t even buy the sample – just bought the whole thing and loaded it on to my Kindle. Now I wish I would have stuck to the sample. Or maybe it was a good thing because it will force me to go further into the book than I might have and maybe things will pick up once I’m better acclimated to the world.

For now though, I am a couple of chapters in to the story and so lost I couldn’t find my way out with a compass. The author is throwing really cool stuff at me – I do get that some of it is cool – but everything is being explained… sort of. But the author is also just going with it and not explaining other things which I think I need to know. I still don’t have the “big picture” concept. I’m not really sure what time I’m in, what the society is like, or the heroine’s place in any of this.

It hit me again how incredibly difficult this skill is. It makes me think of Eileen’s Messenger book. Bamm – girl is messenger between factions of a paranormals. I jumped into that book and instantly knew where I was, knew what the issues were and it just felt so effortless. The WORLD made sense.

I get it. There is something to be said for plunging into the story and allowing your readers to catch up. We know over explanations can bog a story down. However the reverse is still true. Not explaining anything or making assumptions can leave readers confused.

I remember JR Ward’s glossary which I thought was such a great idea, but then I realize that if those stories didn’t have the glossary – I still would have gotten what she was saying in context. In fact I don’t know that I ever even read the glossary. Things like a woman’s “needing” doesn’t take a whole lot explanation. The Omega – bad guy. Scribe Virgin – goddess like thing… maybe I don’t have the exact origin of what she is and can do… but I get it conceptually.

The problem with this book I’m reading is – and I’m making this example up – the author leads with words that have no sense or contextual understanding. “She used her errp on the door.” Then the author launches into this explanation of a magical mystical weapon known as the errp and I’m like huh?

There has to be that line between creating something new but still grounding it in a sense of reality that readers can relate to. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am by this book I thought I was going to love. But I just can’t seem to pick up what the author is putting down.

On a completely side note – another thing that’s going to change (at least my buying habits) with eBooks. If I had downloaded the free “sample” I wouldn’t have bought the book. Which means now more than ever those first few chapters are going to be so critical in terms of a book’s success.

I have to believe books like The Girl With the Dragoon Tattoo are going to have a hard time making it in the future because the only way I know how people got through the book, is by having someone else say…. You need to get through the first 100 or so pages.

On the upside – I’m trying more authors than ever before because of the sample. On the downside - I’m ruling out books completely based on those first two chapters, books that ultimately might have proven to be good.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

1970's TV Theme Songs

Is it just me, or does anyone else remember the days when TV themes were sometimes hits on the radio? I am so dating myself, aren't I?

Molly and I sometimes meet up to write in this coffee shop that's about equidistant from our respective houses where they often play a 70’s themed satellite radio station. For me, it’s a great trip down memory lane. (Even if I often annoy Molly with outbursts like, "OMG. I haven't heard this since I was in grade six! OMG. I used to slow dance to this at boy-girl parties in grade seven!"

And one of the memories that recently sparked was old TV themes, because the station played the theme from Welcome Back Kotter. "Welcome ba-ack. Your dreams were your ticket out..."

In these days, when the opening of a TV show is often just a few chords of music and the title appearing (Lost, anyone?) it’s funny to think of a time when the opening theme and title sequence took up to a minute or more. And we sang along. And listened to them on the radio. And bought the recordings...

Off the top of my head, I can think of these TV shows from the 70’s that each had its theme song released as a top 40 single:
  • Welcome Back Kotter 
  • Chico and the Man 
  • Shaft 
  • Hawaii Five-O 
  • Greatest American Hero 
  • M*A*S*H 
 I just had to go and find the openings of some of theses shows on youtube. :)

Can anyone think of others? Are there more recent examples of this music hit based on a TV show theme? (I can think of a few that used songs that were already hits... or covers of them... but not quite the same thing.)

Are memorable TV show theme songs something you miss, or do you think they were just a waste of time before the actual TV show started?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dear Ben Affleck

I should have written this letter a while ago, but I kept getting distracted by rewatching Good Will Hunting and Shakespeare In Love and to some extent Changing Lanes. And of course - looking at you. You, Ben Affleck, are a good looking guy. Seriously, that chin? And you're aging well. Clearly your wife has steered you in the skin care arena. But all of that is beside the point.

The point is I watched The Town this holiday season. And I think you are an interesting director. I think you have a voice and a simplicity as a Director. And as a writer? What a freaking suprise. You're really good. Honestly, I'm not just talking about that bit in Esquire that I've saved - about why you love motorcycles. I mean you have adapted some great books into really great screenplays. Your movies have "felt different" and considering the genre - that's not easy. Parts of The Town were awesome - casting Jeremy Renner? Awesome. Blake Lively? Who knew? There was a trajectory to the movie and I think you were shooting for something simple admidst chaos - a nice aim.

Here's your problem. You can't act. You might be great in supporting roles, but there's no way you can carry a film. And part of it is your looks. And the other part - you just can't act. And your performance in The Town was good - but it was the weakest link in a good movie - you brought the whole thing down. You ruined your own movie. With the right casting in that role - someone rougher, uglier, someone who needed that love, who could make us believe in the romantic conflict (because Ben, you did not - at all.) Or maybe you didn't show us the scenes you needed too - not sure. You were too movie star. In a gritty gritty movie, you showed up false.

Why did you do it? Why write, direct and act? I still love you Ben. I really do. But sometimes, you make it so hard.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Can you change your world once you've built it?

The answer has to be yes, but carefully, so very carefully. It's definitely a problem that rears its head during a lengthy series. I'm thinking the black brotherhood series, by Ward, or the Anita Blake series.

We should all have to deal with the problems of a ridiculously bestselling series, but I sort of understand the complications that would come with writing many books that all still read as unique.

To that end, Suzanne Collins ending the Hunger Games trilogy after three books was a really wise decision and one that probably had her publisher crying.

Because a world has to evolve to keep each book in a series different and interesting. But how do you evolve it in a way that keeps it consistent but changing and in a way that satisfies your readers.

I felt betrayed by the Anita Blake series when she made that strong, independant heroine, to my mind, a sex crazed weeping woman. I might be exagerrating, but the books became about the heroine's change into one of the creatures she used to hunt, and how she tried to keep her humanity, a really interesting preminse, but I didn't like the way she did it. It was an evolution I couldn't follow, but I understand why she had to do it.

I see the same potential problem with the Brotherhood series. What new is there to learn about the world? how does she evolve it in a satisfying way? I'm interested to learn about how she does it.

And at the same time, Ward is smart enough to start another, really interesting series.

Because sometimes the only way to deal with the problem is to end the series in a really satisfying way.

Have a very merry Christmas everyone.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

You've made your world... now you have to live in it.

So I recently bought an anthology that had another story by Meljean Brook set in the same world as The Iron Duke. Here There Be Monsters. It was good. Really really good. My only complaint was that it was too short, which isn’t fair since it’s a short story.

In thinking about what I love about these stories, I told myself it was the characters and the chemistry and the story in general. I didn’t think the steampunk world mattered.

But of course it does. Brook built this world and for whatever reason I find all the elements in it really compelling. The Horde, the Frenzy, the technology, all of it. I completely buy into robot sharks and bug infected zombies.

Same with the Hunger Games book. Collins took me to this place, and while I’m not sure I want to live there, I can feel it and smell it and see it.

I’m reading another book now, a great new YA called Matched about a Utopian society. Same deal. The world the author has built is fascinating. All details accounted for. All the rules set without too much fuss. Now this place is definitely not a place I want to live, but the images and elements are all so vivid.

Worlds matter. And world building is an amazing talent. Heck, Harry Potter’s world became so real to us they built a theme park so people could go and actually visit it.

But with all this world building it occurs to me that these authors are really stuck there for a time. Thinking about what Eileen said in her post this Tuesday - it does help to write in different genres to keep things fresh. However, many authors can’t do that. Rabid fans are demanding the next book, the next chapter, the next hero and heroine.

I would think they have to spend a part of every day in that place in their heads. I also wonder how long they take building the world before they actually go to write it. And because we’re writers and all a little nuts (let’s face it) how hard does it get to be to keep separate the world you live in, in your head vs. the world you live in…

Huh… just some crazy thoughts for the holidays.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas/Holiday Stories

What's your favorite movie that tends to be shown this time of year? (Or do you like to read this time of year.)

I'd have to first cite Molly's fabulous novella "The Christmas Eve Promise" in the anthology, THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, which won the RITA this summer. Think I re-read it right now. :)

My other fav is the movie, A Christmas Story. Despite the one big flaw that the kid's glasses were so much more 80's than 50's....), that movie cracked me up so much when I first saw it and I still haven't tired of it after at least a dozen viewings. How about you? Any favs?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is that a banana? Or are you just happy to see me?

So a couple of weeks ago, I got sick. Nothing horrific. Just your typical virus with a fever and a sore throat. I took the day off of work and dozed on the couch and watched TV. There was a Law and Order: SVU marathon going. I love the Law and Orders. I'm not proud of it, but I can kind of watch them endlessly. They all flow one into the other, especially if you're running a fever.

I woke up at one point and I'm pretty sure I heard Mariska Hargitay say, "Ma'am, do you know why someone would have put a banana in your husband's rectum?"

I have to admit, it woke me up. And made me snicker although Mariska didn't even smirk. The whole experience got me thinking, though. If I was a Law and Order: SVU writer would I be making up stranger and weirder sex crimes constantly, because after a while another rape is just boring?

It's one of the things that makes me grateful for getting to work in more than one genre. Or sub-genre. Or whatever it is that I do. I get a break here and there. I can stop thinking about creepier and creepier things for my serial killers to do while I wonder about the power structure in a werewolf pack. I can stop trying to make up weird magic things about my Messenger character while I think about romantic suspense plots.

I am sincerely hopeful that it will keep me from ever writing about anyone with a banana in their rectum.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

All right - will the following please email me with thier snail mail addresses so I can send them thier free books!!!

Raven 99
Shiloh T
April Witt

Thanks everyone who stopped by and I hope your holidays are booze-filled and your stockings stuffed with books.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The last day of the book give away

Today you can win Ann Lethbridge's Wicked Rake, Defiant Mistress, and Ann writes wonderfully sensual, historically vibrant romances. It helps that she is English and has a charming British accent.

I've read this and it's wonderful.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The great book giveaway continues...

And in the spirit of talking about the great books we have listed, I’m adding to Sinead’s post from last week regarding The Iron Duke. It isn’t just the blending of genres that makes this book standout, although Sinead was dead on when she said how well it was done, I think it’s just flat out good.

So good I wanted to talk about it. Good thing I belong to a writer’s blog – because frankly my cats are tired of listening to me wax poetic on the topic.

Sinead said that what’s interesting about this book is that all the scenes make it go forward. So when I read it I had that little germ in my head and it really stuck. Having just finished my WIP, one of the things Molly said when she read it was that there are a few scenes were really I’m just restating information the reader already knows, because I’m trying get the information from one character to the other. It’s repetitious. No good.

Iron Duke does none of that. Everything feels fresh and new. All the information given is building on what we know. Sometimes forcing us to make connections.

Now, here is the flipside – sometimes I had to go back and re-read previous chapters to understand what she was putting together in the end (not easy in the Kindle! – see previous rant on this). But I blame that on me. A focused reader shouldn’t need the story repeated for them, a good writer shouldn’t do it. It makes me think we’ve gotten a little lazy as readers. We’re used to filler and rehashing and retelling. So much we’re not working hard enough to hold on to the details when they come. Meljean Brook forces you to think through her book and I LOVED that.

I also think if the idea of Steampunk Romance turns you off – I know I was on the fence – please dismiss the label. Call this book anything. Paranormal, Alternate Universe. Post Apocalyptic… none of that matters.

Great story. Great characters. Great chemistry. Great sex. What else do you want?

Okay so tell me the last great book you read and what made it great? Just by leaving a comment you can win The Demon in Me by Michelle Rowan - LOVE the title!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Giving Books for Christmas?

Continuing our week of gift giving, straddling the space between the gift giving holidays of Hanukkah and Christmas, today we're giving away Eve Silver's SINS OF THE HEART, the first book in her highly popular Otherkin series. (Get all three!)

Comment on this post for a chance to win Eve's fabulous book. Plus, still time to comment on the posts from Monday and Tuesday to win those books!

All winners will be selected at random and announced on Monday, December 20th.

Good luck! And if you haven't done your shopping yet... Well, you're in the same boat as me.

Tune in tomorrow and Friday for chances to win books by Michelle Rowen and Ann Lethbridge!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Ho Ho Ho -- Books Books Books

To continue our great book giveaway party, today we're giving away Juliana Stone's debut HIS DARKEST HUNGER.

Juliana Stone's day job* is rock star, Molly wasn't joking about that, and she's destined to become a rock star in the book world, too!

Comment on this post for a chance at the book giveaway! And on yesterday's post for a chance to win Tiffany Clare's book.

All the winners will be announced next Monday.

*technically more of a night job, than a day job, I suppose

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ho Ho Ho Drunk Writers Do Christmas

Remember when the Holidays meant relaxing? It meant reading a couple of great books perhaps while someone brought you snacks or drinks? Suddenly, I'm the one bringing snacks and drinks which means there's little time for reading. Bah Humbug.

However, here in the great white north there's been a huge windfall, a veritable blizzard of great books being written by some pretty great Canadian women and guess what? We're giving them away! That's right - free books all week long. Make a comment, win a book, someone might just come by with a snack, or a juice box, all for you! Could we any better elves? No. We couldn't.

Today to kick off our great week of giveaways I've got Tiffany Clare's debut - The Surrender of a Lady. If you haven't heard of this dark and sexy historical romance - then you've been in a cave. Or a candy stupor.

Tomorrow Juliana Stones' His Darkest Hunger. Dark, sexy paranormal. AND Juliana is actually a rock star. So there.

Wednesday, we're giving away the lovely and uber-talented Eve Silver's Sins of The Heart - the first in her soul reapers trilogy. That's right, soul reapers.

Some of you know her as Michelle Maddox, some of you know her as Michelle Rowen, all of you should be reading her incredible paranormal books. We're giving away The Demon In Me on Thursday.

And Finally, Friday We have Ann Lethbridge's Wicked Rake, Defiant Mistess AND a compliation of first chapters from some of the hottest Historical romance authors writing right now.

So - make comment, win some books. Winners will be announced NEXT MONDAY!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

I'm jonesing for my next fix

Apologies for the short post today, but it's close to Christmas and life is crazy busy these days..

I have nothing to read. Seriously. Well, Ok, I should read my current WIP, but otherwise, I have nothing to read!

So help me out. I have put Incarceron and The Iron King on my list, both are YA titles recommened by Dear Author, but I don't have any romances. I would kill for a great literary title. I hear good things about Room.

Any suggestions?

Can someone help a girl out before I read the Zadist book the 98th time...

Thursday, December 09, 2010

When you just want to skip ahead...

I’ve praised my new Kindle up and down the wazoo. Being able to carry around my manuscript and make notes on it was huge. Being able to download any book I wanted whenever I wanted it - also huge… and expensive.

However, I have discovered a flaw. I can’t skip ahead. Now I know there are go-tos and search options but that’s not what I’m talking about. There are times in a book especially those with multiple storylines where I get anxious as to where the one storyline is taking me. I need to flip ahead a couple of pages, or chapters, to get a glimpse of what’s coming.

Sometimes all I need is seeing two names on the same page to let me know that the characters were able to find each other again. Sometimes I need more.

I remember the final book of Harry Potter when Ron takes off. That was the only time in that book I let myself skip ahead. But I needed to know how much further I needed read before he was back because I certainly wasn’t stopping until I knew he’d found Harry again.

The people I eat lunch with every day think this is insane. They also think it’s strange for me who is both a writer and avid reader that I would commit what they consider to be a reading violation. But I think it has to do with how invested I am in the story and in the characters. I feel their anxiousness. I worry and stress about the resolution of a romantic battle.

In life I can’t always know what’s coming next. I have to wait and let it play out. But with a book – I can cheat. It never stops me from reading the whole thing but it does give me peace of mind.

Or at least it did before I got my Kindle. I’m towards the end of the latest JR Ward and all I want to know is if Blay is going to sleep with Saxton. That’s it. Just that. Nothing else matters. And it’s killing me to have to read every single page until I get there!

What about you… do you skip ahead?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Revealing and obscuring plot points

I’ve seen three movies recently that got me thinking about this topic and how there's kind of a sliding scale in terms of how much a writer decides to reveal and when.

Great storytelling constantly strikes a balance between revealing and obscuring plot, posing and answering questions, and this keeps pages turning, (or people from checking their cell phones and annoying me in the movie theatre.)

And these three films differed strikingly in this regard: what they showed the audience, what they held back.

Black Swan – As I watched this film, I was constantly figuring things out (I thought) and thinking of alternate explanations, but as many times as I changed my mind or went "aha!" I didn’t really know what was going on until the end. And reaching the end just made me want to see it all over again from the start. Every time you think you have it figured out, the filmmaker takes you in another direction.

127 Hours – The polar opposite of Black Swan in some ways, because you know how it’s going to end before it starts. At least I did, because it’s based on a widely known true story. But I liked this film too. A lot.

Certified Copy – With this film, as many things as I guessed, by the time I got to the end, all of those possibilities (and likely more) were still possible, and I never got a hint as to what the frak was really going on. Not even when I was part of a discussion of the movie with the audience and two prominent Toronto film critics.

A bit more about each:

I loved this movie. I saw it back during the tiff and can’t wait to see it again. And other than what I’ve already said, I don’t want to say more, because I fear it would be spoilerish. The trailer is very good. If you’ve seen that, you know as much as you should before going in. This is a film where the filmmaker figured out just how much to show and how much to hide and which ways to misdirect, to end up with near perfect storytelling. Of course this shouldn’t have been such a great surprise to me since I’ve admired all Darren Aronofsky’s previous films,  Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, (even The Fountain, although I’m not sure I’ve figured that one out, yet).

Even though I knew the basic true story and therefore the ending before the film started, it was one of the most tense and emotionally draining movies I’ve seen in a long time. And James Franco... That really should be enough.

Even if you haven’t heard of this movie, you might remember this guy’s story. It’s about the hiker who, back in 2003, got his arm suck under a boulder at the bottom of a narrow canyon in the Arizona desert, and the way he finally survived – by cutting off his lower arm after five days.

The moral of this story (other than being a major testament to one man’s enormous will to survive) is never go hiking alone without telling people where you’re going, and never leave home without a Swiss Army knife. (And filmmaker, Danny Boyle, manages to foreshadow both of those so cleverly...)

How this man finally manages to sever his lower arm without even, um, his Swiss army knife... well, let’s just say it was miles past horrific, and made you wish he'd remembered that knife, and if it hadn't been a true story, I’d never have believed it. Let’s just say he certainly didn’t have it as easy as Merle in The Walking Dead -- no handy saw lying on the roof :). If any of the news stories back in 2003 had the graphic details of what this guy did to get free, I forgot them.

But what impressed me about the film, and increased my awe of the fabulous Danny Boyle (Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire among others...) is how tense the story was.

Even though, right from the beginning, you know that at some point he’s going to fall and trap his arm, you don’t know when this will happen, and so the part of the movie that passes before the event is gripping. I tensed up every time he jumped over anything, or did something dangerous—both of which he does, a lot.
Then after he’s trapped, you know from the film’s title (and doing some math in your head) that he’s not going to get himself out for five and a half days... and yet even though he tries some new method at, say, 14 hours in, you’re rooting for him and thinking his plan might actually work. (Or, I guess, trying to figure out why it won’t work...)

I can’t remember when I’ve felt so physically wrecked after a movie. I cried during a lot of films at the tiff this year, and felt emotionally spent after several, but 127 Hours left me physically drained too, as if, for at least 90 minutes, I’d been part of his 127 hour ordeal.

Now this is a film that purposefully misdirects you, confuses you... and then not only doesn’t give you an answer, it gives so many contradictory clues, it’s pretty much impossible to puzzle through what happened. The whole time, I kept guessing and second guessing what was going on, and trying to relate it to the title and philisophical discussion about the value of copies vs originals in the art world... And I do admit that kept me (mostly) interested. But I felt somewhat frustrated when it ended without answering any of my questions, instead left me asking more.

Certified Copy is definitely an art film, (although, for some bizarre reason, CBC film critic, Jesse Wente, referred to it as a romantic comedy when he introduced it... wha-at?). It won Juliette Binoche the best actress prize at Cannes, and opens in North America in a few months. At least that’s what Jesse told at the sneak peek screening I saw. I can’t decide whether or not Binoche deserved that award. I found it nearly impossible to get a clear read on her character, but based on the fact that by the end I also could not come out with a clear read on the entire film, maybe her somewhat flighty performance was the point?

Now, I do worry that if any of you want to see this movie I’m ruining the experience by telling you that you'll never figure it out. At least not in the same way the person sitting next to you will... but the two critics at the sneak peek screening claimed it was richer and more interesting on a second viewing. (They both first saw it in Cannes last spring.) But I’m not interested enough to find out if they’re right. And they also said they watched it the second time looking for clues to support their favored theories... but ended up seeing so many contradictions that picking one through-line that explained it all was possible.

While I know I'm making this movie sound aggravating, I also think I'm making it sound more interesting than it was, and maybe that's why Wente went (pun, ha!) with Romantic Comedy as a genre. It's reminiscent of Before Sunrise... Most of it is one couple talking. And the main questions you have are how, or if, these two know each other and whether or not they have a history and whether or not at certain parts they're role playing to make points, or whether it's the truth, or whether the screenwriter is really just screwing with us. Which was my conclusion. Someone at the end said they thought the pair were meant to be like a copy of every couple... not one specific couple. But yeah... while I didn't hate this movie, I'm not recommending it either.

So, how do you take your stories? With cream and sugar? Revealed or obscured? A little of both?

Can you think of other cool movies or books that used misdirection well? Hmm... I’m already thinking of a few, but will stop talking now. ;)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Cover love!

Yep. The cover gods have smiled upon me. Here it is, the proposed cover for my next Eileen Carr release!

Ain't she a beaut? I just love it. It's gotten me all excited about the book again. I can't wait to get my revision letter and dive back into it!

Monday, December 06, 2010

The Seventh Circle of Hell

Thanks Sinead, for that title, until you said that I didn't know what to call the last few days of my life. I've been a bad drunk writer the last week - no drinking, no writing, very little internet access. For some reason when I go to my folk's place over Thansgiving, I drop off the face of the earth, which is great in some respects and then terrible in others. But always, without fail, getting back to my regular life involves an epic struggle. This year so far has been the worst.

My son was sick in the night two nights before we left, a stomach bug that had him up every two hours to throw up in the bowl he slept with. I, of course, didn't sleep. The next night Lucy woke up WANTING to throw up because Mick had been doing it. She's a copy cat, as my son said all night, which was so helpful at four am.

I had a fabulous booksigning at Cypress House in Rochelle, Il. A gorgeous coffee shop/flower shop/gift shop. And then I packed up the kids and hit the road. I was tired, but a gigantic Panera coffee fixed that. The kid's fell asleep, I had NPR on the radio - it looked good. Until Lucy threw up all over herself. I cleaned her up as best I could and she fell right back to sleep. The car reeked of vomit. But, with that huge coffee in my system and the kids asleep, I thought I'd press on a little more. Lucy woke up a half hour later and put the kibosh on that idea.

So, hotel room. Mick, the trooper, passes right out and stays out. Lucy however, paces the room pushing aside every ice bucket and hotel towel I put under her nose, only to vomit four times all over herself. She finally passes out at 4:30. Mick is up at 6:30. The hotel coffee is terrible. Lucy throws a fit for forty five minutes about wearing Mick's pajamas - she simply doesn't understand she's thrown up over everything I had for her. I cried at this point. Just a little.

White out snow storm. Traffic jam twenty minutes from home. Backyardigan's on repeat on the DVD player - I will never hear that opening song again without wanting to cry and/or scream at my kids.

Now, what you may think, could possibly keep a woman like myself from losing her mind and I'll tell you. While home, I had a long conversation with my editor about some changes that needed to be made to my book. Big changes. Lots of thinking. And while my life was literally covered in vomit - I had my secret world to escape to. Once again, I say with great appreciation - Thank God I'm a Writer.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Genre blending. Again.

I know its a topic that's been talked about to death, but I figure it's Friday, so let's pound that subject into the ground.
I'm reading (thanks, Molly) The Iron Duke, and it's really something. It's steampunk romance, and it is sexy and fast paced and original and deserves to be read by a lot of people.
And it's a great example of genre blending. It's a steampunk mystery/adventure wrapped in a really hot romance. I don't think it's for people who need the romance to be the central focus of the book, but as direction for romance novels, I think it's a really good example of where they can go.
I want to read more romance that is also plot heavy. I want adventure novels with hot sex.
A lot of reviewers have issues if they feel the romance is underdeveloped, but for me, as long as I believe the two people belong together, and you keep me entertained through the course of the book, I'm buying in.
I love regular romance, but a lot of the books I'm reading lately feel padded to me, as though the author is struggling to meet page count with introspection and unrealistic drama.
Nothing about the Iron Duke feels padded.
Anyone out there a romance purist? Is anyone feeling genre blending fatigue?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

How do you write a book?

It’s such an odd thing. My brother just sent his last kid off to college this year. He’s no longer coaching soccer, no longer driving and picking up kids. He’s not a TV fan and while he reads he’s not an insane reader like me (Who thought it would be a good idea for me to get a Kindle? I’m walking around with unlimited books in my purse. Not good!).

Anyway, he says, to put it quite bluntly, he’s going insane. He’s turned his hand to cooking, training his new puppy in Frisbee toss and ... he wants to write a book.
My brother is famous for “having an idea”. Over the years he’s always told me … Hey Steph… I have this idea. I smile and nod and let him go on. He actually inspired one of my books. Not his idea at all, but one kernel of what he said later became one of my Bombshells.

When he talks about his ideas, he does talk like a writer. I mean it’s there. He sees the characters, he sees their actions. He sees how they interact with one another. I think you have to have that bit of creativity in order to be a fiction writer. I don’t know how else you do it unless you see or hear the characters in your mind. Kind of like the Michelangelo approach to sculpture.

I don’t sit down and think about what I make. I take the image that’s in my head already and just pull it out and put it on paper.

So for me a writer has to have those images, that picture, those characters already in there and then figure out what all those people in your head are doing so you can effectively tell their story. Would you all agree? Or do you think you can build a character from the ground up? I don’t know.

But then there is the work of writing. He asked me, so how do I start? What do I do? And I drew a blank. The obvious answer is to start with page one, but I think he was looking for more of a guideline as to how it all works. How does one sit down and write a book.

I did say – because I learned this only when I met other writers - everyone has their own process. You have to find out what works for you. But it felt a little bit like if I asked someone how to cook - they might answer you need to try different things and see what taste combinations make sense.

Huh? I couldn’t do much with that. As a result – I’m not much of a cook.

I ask you - do you have books you would recommend on getting started? Would have some advice for a person who literally has never attempted such a thing before? Tell him to try plotting? Try pantsing? I mean I just don’t know.

For me one day I sat down and started to write stuff. Seems like pretty weak advice.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Writing has taught me how to fail

I read a post the other day on agent Jenny Bent's blog that spoke to me and, (forgive the psychobabble),  led to a lightbulb moment of self-realization.

Writing has taught me how to fail.

That sounds negative. But really, I don't mean it that way. Honest.

Jenny's post was at least partially about bravery and how much she admires writers who eagerly pitch to her at conferences, when chances are they are going to fail. (Not necessarily fail at the pitch, but fail at getting her to offer representation, or fail at landing a good publishing contract for the book.)

My moment of insight was that before I started writing seriously, (and the seriously part is important), I was not good at failing. I think this is because, frankly, I hadn't had all that much practice. Sure, I'd had tons of disappointments in sports and school and work and love, but basically I was used to success.  As a result, my one or two major failures before writing (BW) were, in a word, devastating. I sucked at dealing with failure.

In my BW years, the five stages of grief in reaction to a setback, took forever to go through. In fact, I think I still might be working through my grief for a couple of big BW failures from more than a decade ago...

But the good news is that after learning how to accept negative critiques (my CPs might claim I'm still on the upside of that learning curve), learning how to accept rejections, learning how to recognize that a book on which I've spent a year (or more) of my life isn't working, or just isn't good enough to stand out, or maybe simply just had bad luck... After all the things it takes to become a writer, I am learning to fail. Yay me!!!

I'm not claiming that I'm great at failing yet, but I am learning and getting better with each failure. :)

Seriously. I feel really good about this. Personal growth that doesn't involve needing new clothes. ;)

In other news... I'm part of a new blog for readers and anyone who loves a good story that launches today. I'll be blogging there about once a week.  Get Lost in a Story

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Galleys Off!

I sent off galleys of my second Messenger book, Dead on Delivery, last week. So that's it. That was my last chance to change anything. Next time I see it, it will be bound. It will be a book. It's done. My work is through. My brain child will be born for all the world to see.

It is my least favorite moment of publishing. I hate it. I always feel like I'm not doing enough at this stage, although in all truth, no one wants you to be making any big changes at this point. There are rules. Percentages. Consequences. Still . . . to just go through and fix typos and continuity errors (and that is seriously all I do at this point) seems like not enough. I should be polishing and honing more.

I can't stand to even think about it at this point, though. At this point in the process, I have read the damn thing so many times I can not stand it anymore. The idea is stupid. The execution is clumsy. The dialogue is wooden and the setting is bland. There is no fixing it. It should simply be thrown out and forgotten about.

In all fairness, in a year (maybe less), I'll pick it up for some reason or another, flip it open and something in it will make me chuckle. Or get misty-eyed. Or pat myself on the back for some reason or another.

Not now, though. Right now I hate it. At least it's off my desk.

Monday, November 29, 2010

National Day of Listening

Oh Thanksgiving. How I love thee. With your cranberry sauce and cornbread stuffing. The pie selection. The leftovers. The total disregard to calories consumed. It is any wonder this is my favorite holiday?

Truth be told it's my favorite holiday for a lot of reasons. Pie, not the least of them. But we share this holiday with my four cousins and thier families. Inevitably, the catching up with each other turns into looking back. And the stories come out. There are amazing stories - all of my cousins have spent most of thier lives in Africa building schools and wells and bridges and communities. But the stories everyone want to hear are the stories of when my Dad and my Uncle were kids. There was a lot of adventure, mishaps, a loving border collie mutt who fought to the death to protect them from various animals. And my Dad is a master storyteller. But why everyone loves these stories is the fact that my grandparents are absent - it's just Dad and Uncle Tim against the world. And the fact that my grandparents perhaps weren't the most loving or involved parents - sets the stories against a backdrop fraught with conflict.

It's compelling stuff.

My mother on the other hand, had a warm and supportive upbringing. Very attentive and involved parents. Her stories are a little boring. So are mine.

My cousins - with thier African childhoods and thier parents who were attentive and involved but often seemed to have NO IDEA where thier boys were - totally intriguing.And I've heard the stories a hundred times, but every year, my belly too full, I listen like they are brand new because I love them so much.

How about you? What family stories are your favorites?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Welcome Caridad Ferrer!

Today Rita-award winning author Caridad Ferrer's long-awaited new novel, When the Stars Go Blue, is being released and we are lucky enough to have her stop by for a little chat.

Here's a description of the book:

Dance is Soledad Reyes’s life. About to graduate from Miami’s Biscayne High School for the Performing Arts, she plans on spending her last summer at home teaching in a dance studio, saving money, and eventually auditioning for dance companies. That is, until fate intervenes in the form of fellow student Jonathan Crandall who has what sounds like an outrageous proposition: Forget teaching. Why not spend the summer performing in the intense environment of the competitive drum and bugle corps? The corps is going to be performing Carmen, and the opportunity to portray the character of the sultry gypsy proves too tempting for Soledad to pass up, as well as the opportunity to spend more time with Jonathan, who intrigues her in a way no boy ever has before.

But in an uncanny echo of the story they perform every evening, an unexpected competitor for Soledad's affections appears: Taz, a member of an all-star Spanish soccer team. One explosive encounter later Soledad finds not only her relationship with Jonathan threatened, but her entire future as a professional dancer.

Sounds good, doesn't it? Well, Allyson Noel says that Caridad "delivers a dreamy romance with all the necessary ingredients: a feisty heroine, an irresistible hero, and an ending that will make you swoon." If you want to read it for yourself, stop by Amazon or leave a comment here. One lucky commenter will win a copy of Caridad's book! Don't be shy!

Welcome, Caridad! I'm so thrilled to have you here! What's your drink of choice?

Um... Let's see: For morning, coffee, brewed very strong (I love Sumatra, if that tells you anything), during the day, it's Diet Coke w/ Splenda, in the evenings or if it's really cold outside, I switch to tea (Earl Grey, please), and if I'm in the south, sweet tea, because that's the only thing you can have barbeque with.

As far as alcoholic drinks, I love mojitos and Cosmos. What can I say, I'm fairly straightforward that way. :)

Excellent. Let me just muddle the mint and the lime. Ah, there we go. Perhaps you'd like some croquetas to go with it? No? Perhaps some pan fritos? Ah, very good. Now, down to business. Tell us about your show biz background (I know you have one. Don't be shy.). Did it help you in writing When the Stars Go Blue? Or did you have to do a lot of research on the whole drum and bugle corps thing?

Oh heavens, I'm not sure you could legitimately call it a "show-biz background," but I do have a very longstanding background in the arts, to the point where once upon a time I wanted nothing more than to be Barbra Streisand, just without the diva 'tude. I have at various times, played piano, trumpet, French horn, and various percussion instruments. These days I limit myself to singing (mostly in the car, but I can occasionally be persuaded, with the help of a mojito, to karaoke), and I absolutely adore musical theatre, with the pinnacle of my "career" coming when I played Rizzo in GREASE. I actually, when I'm being fairly honest, think I could have been a half-decent actor, if not for the massive audition anxiety that robs me of coherent thought.

As far as drum and bugle corps, that was one of the musical activities that consumed my adolescence-- from ages 15 to 18, I was a member of the Florida Wave Drum & Bugle corps, so yeah, I did live the life I write about in STARS, except I gave those kids a few more amenities (like decent buses) that I never got to experience as a member of a small, perpetually broke corps.

You speak a lot of languages and I'm not just talking about Spanish and English. You clearly speak YA very well. Kirkus Reviews mentions how authentic Soledad's first person narration feels in STARS. Tell us about writing for the teen market. Are there things you do differently than when you're writing for adults?

Why thank you! And yes, the Kirkus review was a nice surprise-- it's always comes as something of a shock when people compliment me on my young adult voice and its authenticity, because I never felt as if I was truly a "young adult." I was a latchkey kid by the age of twelve, with a lot of adult responsibilities in the wake of my parents' divorce and then, as a musician, immersed in that world, which encompasses people across a broad age spectrum, it wasn't as if I did a lot of hanging out with my peers, in terms of age. However, that said, I think that what makes my voice resonate and why people tend to compliment it, is because I write from the perspective of the teenager I was. I think it was Melissa Marr who was recently quoted as saying "write YA for the teenager you were," and without ever consciously realizing it, I think that's exactly what I've been doing all along. I'm not sure I would ever be drawn to writing a high-school set YA, for example, because for me, high school remains a blur. It was just somewhere to pass time until I could get to a rehearsal or practice piano or write in my journal. (Okay, so I DID do some of the journal writing in class, which is another reason high school is such a blur-- the worlds I was creating were far more interesting than the day-to-day minutiae of high school drama.)

I loved the excerpt from STARS on your website. Soledad talks about the "dancer" almost as if she was another person. Can you tell us more about that?

I'm not sure how good a job I can do explaining it, but I'll do my best, because I absolutely love this question and I love the quote that I'm assuming prompted the question.

"Breathing deep, I waited for the strum of the guitar, the dark insistent rhythms of the percussion to sink into my skin and work their magic, transforming me into an enchantress, a siren. With each note, the minutiae of dress rehearsal, of intense boys with pretty eyes, of the petty annoyances of life, of school, of everything.

It all faded into insignificance as once again, the dancer took over."

Yes! That's the one! It gave me shivers!

I think, when you're in the arts, regardless of what medium, you sink into the pursuit so thoroughly, it's almost as if you divorce yourself from your everyday being. You're transformed into someone or something else altogether and it's a being that even those who are closest to you might not recognize. I know, when I played piano competitively, it was as if someone else took over. That part of me that was confident and accomplished at this thing at which I worked so hard, something that very few people were privy to, until I chose to allow them to see. I wasn't the geek with the zits and glasses-- I held command over this instrument and by extension, anyone who was listening. And it always, always came as a surprise to outsiders. It was the same with acting and it's what I've always loved best about writing. That sensation of sinking into the work so deeply that the wife and mother and daughter and sister and friend simply ceases to exist. Nothing else matters. I'm only that part of me that is the writer.

Well, that gave me shivers, too! Thank you so much for stopping by, Caridad. Don't forget, everyone, leave a comment and you'll have a chance to win a copy of WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE!

Friday, November 19, 2010

The magic of the perfect character

I don't know if it's prep, or luck, or a combination of the both, but sometimes other people(ie. not me) find the perfect character.
An example of this, for me, is Sheldon, on the Big Bang theory, a sitcom I'm only now just discovering. sigh! Always late to any party.

The character is perfection, and luckily, for the show's producers, played to perfection by Jim Parsons. The character is a combintation of Asberger's and obsessive complusive disorder with a complete lack of understanding of human nature added to a ridiculously high IQ and a complete lack of humility. And several seasons in, the character, while not fundamentally changing, is still funny and fresh and I think part of this is in the writer's choice not to overwhelm the show with too much Sheldon, but also not to try and change him.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, would be Don Draper. Totally imperfect, and a man consistently hampered by his own terrible personal decisions. But completely fascinating, always. I know this character was more prep than luck, but it doesn't stop me from being absurdly jealous.

In print, the closest to perfection for me is Zadist. The mostly riculously tortured, sexy hero ever. I could have read another 400 pages about him and that book is still a big comfort read for me.

I know I've missed a ton. Any other characters that could sustain many books, or seasons of TV?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The End

I’m about six pages and a few more read throughs from being done with my book. Really, I can’t believe it. When I decided to go ahead and write the book on spec I was jazzed with energy. Yes, I was taking a risk. Four months out of my writing life spent on a book - that let’s face it has a very minor chance of getting published - is a big deal for me. Oh and that’s not negativity about my chances – that’s publishing fact.

But when my agent said - I really think you need to finish the book if we’re going to have a chance at selling it – I thought this is great. I’ll get to do it. I’ll get to see the finished product. Sometimes it can be frustrating when you have this great idea, you write the synopsis and first three chapters, you just start to get involved with the characters and then… nothing. No one likes the idea, or can sell the idea or whatever. You never really get to know how it might have turned out. Would it have matched the vision in you had in your head when you started?

So in looking at the bright side of things – I thought lucky me. I will get to find out what happens to these characters. I will test myself and see if I can execute this somewhat complicated story. I will push myself and try to grow as a writer…

And then about sixty-percent of the way through, I thought… this sucks! I’m never going to finish. I have no idea if this is any good. I am spending months working on this when it probably won’t sell (again fact – most books don’t sell). I could be doing proposals for my editor who I stand a much better chance of selling to, but OH NO I had to write historicals!

What was I thinking?

I forgot it really does take about four to five months to write a book. I think I can always do it in three. I forgot when I’m getting up early to work on the book, and then I spend the day at my computer at work that I get this horrible pinched nervey thing going on in my neck which requires PT therapy to work it out. I forgot that when I am in full blown book mode, I tend not to exercise which I need.
But I just kept putting out the pages. Telling the story. And finally it’s here. The end. I know it’s not over. I’m hoping for feedback to fix and correct the things I got wrong. I’m hoping too for some time away from it so I can go back to it with a fresh eye. But the labor, the real hard work, is done.

People ask me how many books I’ve written. I say thirteen – because that’s how many I’ve published and that’s all they really care about. I just sat down and counted them out. I’ve written (complete books beginning to end) twenty-four books.
It never gets easier, but it always feels the same when I type those words at the bottom of the page… The End.

So freaking good.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Forgettable TV

I watch a lot of TV. Too much TV. And yet, when I hear people recommend shows I've given a pass, I'm curious. And not wanting to miss out on something potentially great, I sometimes try to catch up.

I've done that with two series, lately. The Good Wife and Castle.

While I wasn't drawn into The Good Wife immediately, it really grew on me with the complexity of the characters and situations, and the truly outstanding actors and performances. And I love that there aren't any fully "good" or "bad" characters.  Love all the moral ambiguity in this show. This is one I wish I'd watched from the start and need to hunt down the episodes from this season that I missed, so I can get fully caught up. (When did the Lily Taylor character first appear? Love her...)

Castle, on the other hand, I really wanted to like from the start. And I do remember watching the pilot and thought I'd stopped watching soon after that. But, hearing that the show has lots of fans among other writers, I thought I needed to give it another chance and so I rented the first season. Watched them  this weekend in record time. Why record time? Because I quickly realized I'd seen them all before. I'd forgotten I'd watched the entire first season. I clearly found it so forgettable, I, well, forgot I'd seen it.

I'm trying to figure out why I found it so forgettable...

Nathan Fillion is infinitely likable and adorable and so is his Richard Castle character. And I really think they do capture the "writer thing" very well. Not that I know what it's like to be a mega-bestseller, but so many of the writer details ring true. Some of the dialogue and banter is great and the one liners can be clever. I do find myself believing that Nathan Fillion is a writer and not Captain Mal from Firefly. And that's no small feat.

I also like the mother and daughter characters, even if they feel slightly stereotypical to me. But as of the end of the first season, nothing very interesting has happened with either of these characters. Unlike TGW where the family and other secondary characters have depth and layers, these two just seem to be there so that Castle has someone to tell the details of the case-of-the-week to. And all the other bits of business (mother exploiting his fame and throwing parties, daughter being ridiculously responsible and cute) had no arc or nuance. (To be fair, the first season was only 10 episodes long, but even given the short season, not much happened... Really... do we know much more at the end of the first season that we didn't already know or see coming in the pilot? Or even the trailer for the series? Perhaps this is why my memory tricked me into thinking I'd only seen the pilot.)

The detective I find slightly less appealing. Beckett. That's her name, right? See, I forgot. I haven't found her character all that interesting or even consistent. She seems to go from no-nonsense-obsessed-with-difficult-case girl to drop-a-sexual-innuendo-into-every-second-sentence girl at the drop of a hat.  But again... Something happened in the very last episode of the first season that hinted that more interesting things ahead for her... And I can maybe buy that she's supposed to be a bit of a mystery for the Castle character to work out... But still, I remain underwhelmed.

Perhaps it's a pacing thing for me. I'm not into murder-of-the-week style shows that much, so for a show in this genre to work for me, (like Dexter, for example), there has to be an overarching story that's also paced well and juicy enough to draw me from week to week. For me, only *hinting* at the major character arcs and internal conflicts (other than the obvious: they want to sleep with each other) by the end of the tenth episode isn't quick enough.

What I want to know now is... Should I watch season 2? I have to admit that when I rented Season 1, I thought the current season was 2... I didn't realize how far behind I was... But who knows, maybe I blocked out Season 2, too? (I don't think so... with hindsight, I think I gave up part way into 2, not part way into 1 as I'd first thought.)

Castle fans... Is it worth getting caught up?

If season 1 was just a tease and it gets better... let me know. I still mostly want to like this show, even though I forgot I'd seen an entire season.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I love me an epistolary novel

I do. It's true. They amaze me. I'm reading one now (Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn) and while I'm wondering if it's a little too clever, I'm still really enjoying it.

How about A.S. Byatt's Possession? It wasn't totally epistolary, but I loved the old letters they found and how all the romances and relationships and everything intertwined. And how about Roxanne St. Claire's Hit Reply? My mother didn't even know what an IM was and she still loved it. It was that good.

So what is it about these novels I love? I think it's that they're all about words. There's no stage direction. You can't experience any of the action first-hand. It all has to be told to you at some remove. It's all words, words, words and I do love words.

I slid a little of my love for them into Un-Bridaled. My heroine found a box of old letters from World War II. The letters were based off a box of old World War II letters that we found in my garage. My late husband's father had written them to his sister. I have no idea how we ended up with them and anyone who might possible know was already dead. My kids and I pored over them. They're fascinating.

How about you? Do you love all things epistolary? Do you have a favorite? Do you hate them?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Totally Blunt Conversation About Royalties: Internet Sales

Royalty Statement time again and with the exception of some suprising popularity in Nordic countries - there's very little of interest. Except internet numbers. And I'm waffling between how interesting they are or not. But here goes.

My least popular book, the first that was made available on the internet all the way back in 07 has sold 74 copies. That's right. 74. On my first royalty statement for that book it had sold 11.

The first book in my Mitchell series - Baby Makes Three - has sold 373. The second in that series, about a hundred less. And the third book sold 290 - but that book was on sale at Amazon for like...a buck. That series got some buzz on Dear Author, which I think bumped those numbers a bit.

The first of the O'Neill books which was out in August and these statements end in June had sold 7 e-books and they are only available on the eHarlequin website.

So...what does all of this mean to me? Well, remember I am a middle of the road author in a not best selling line. So, my numbers are way way different than say Presents or Desire. There is no doubt in my mind but that Harlequin is ahead of the curve on the internet sales of thier standard print books - in terms of pricing and availabity - they've bypassed the agency model drama. They offer GREAT promotions on thier website and I believe that most internet sales come from the eHarlequin website. I think for as confusing and misleading the Amazon sales rank numbers are the kindle sales are the numbers to watch - and not because you get a better idea of what's what - but because Amazon is becoming an e-book seller. I imagine most authors ebooks far out sell thier print books from that seller. I believe mine do. I think my best selling book probably sold 20 print books through Amazon.

I believe that sites like Dear Author and All About Romance can give you some sales - I believe more and more fans of those sites are buying thier books on an ereader. That said - for me, 98% my sales are still paper and a large portion are still subscribers. (I made up that 98% - I'm not doing that math on a monday morning).

So, it's interesting. Sort of. Frankly, having gone to conferences I expected to be blown away by the ebook sales - but maybe it just doesn't effect Harlequin the same way it effects single title books. OR maybe it's Superromance. Once again - a lot of theory - not much proof. But there you have it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

building the monster

Vampire diaries is doing something really interesting right now. They are building the myth of a super vamp, and creating a monster, all without showing us the actual monster.
The first thing they did was have other vamps talk about the super vamp with fear and awe. A super vamp that even the big bad from the previous season is terrified of.
They introduced the concept that the super vamp is the original vampire and therefore older than anyone else.
Because they did this, we believe that he could have extra powers, without them having to explain why.
Then they introduced the super vamps foot soldier, a vamp that could easily beat any other vamp.
So now, without ever seeing this character, there is no doubt that the heroes of the show are in serious trouble.
They've done a pretty good job of building the monster, but now they have to follow through and when they do present the super vamp, he has to live up to expectations. He has to be the scariest creature they've ever presented on this show.

The opposite of this is what Stephen King did with IT. An amazing book, right up to the end. Because seriously, what's scarier than a monster clown? He created the question and then answered it with a giant spider. To me it felt like a huge let down. Sure, giant spiders are terrifying, but he needed to come up with something that could trump the homocidal clown and a spider didn't.

It's a tricky balance, building the monster in a way that satisfies the audience and also allows the hero to vanquish them.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Did anyone see Glee this week? I thought it was a really good episode – maybe only one unnecessary song – but I loved the Kurt storyline. Bullying has been very much in the news and not surprising the writers would broach this particular subject with Kurt.

What I loved most about the episode was when Kurt goes to the other school and meets these guys who sing and dance and are cool because of it. He asks the three guys who take him for coffee… “Are you all gay?” Only one is, but still there is that moment of connection. Here in front of Kurt is someone who will understand what he’s going through. Will know how hard it can be sometimes.

I couldn’t help but think it’s like that for me when I’m with other writers. I remember the first time I went to RWA. I was so new and had never had any exposure to other writers. Ever. My editor took me to dinner with a few of her other authors and I was like Kurt…

“Are you all writers?” I thought in that same awed tone.

For the first time here were people who understood what I was talking about. I don’t know if I realized how isolated I was until that happened. Writing is a big part of my life. Always has been. As a kid my parents bought me a Commodore 64 and all I used it for was as a keyboard to write. I had a card table and card chair set up in the basement, my C64, an old TV for a monitor and a printer that after three years of asking for my parents finally bought me for Christmas. And I knew they had no idea why it was so important to me.

“What’s she doing down in that basement?” My dad would forever ask and my mother would just shrug.

They had no idea what I did down there. We didn’t talk about my stories. We didn’t discuss plot points or characters, or strategize a plan to get published. In my family we were athletes, not writers. I was most definitely an outcast in that regard. Now certainly I’m not comparing being a writer to being gay. Writers as far as I know are not socially discriminated against. But for me it was definitely a part of my life that I didn’t get to share with anyone. Meeting other writers at conferences and even in part on the internet through blogs has really been life changing in that regard.

I can tell you all I’m struggling with the final death throes of my WIP and you’ll understand what that means. My assistant at my day job will come in and ask me about a plan of attack for our next electronic claim implementation and my answer will be… “I think there needs to be a little more emotional connection between these characters in Chapter 8.”

Now most of my non-writer friends have come to know me well enough that when I have book on the brain you’re only getting about 45% of the rest of me. But they really don’t “get” it. They don’t know what it’s like to fight this fight with a book. To wonder if you’ve got enough depth, if the plot is both logical and surprising, to worry about language and word choice. They don’t know the fear of sending it out and waiting to see how people will respond.

So while it’s very different as I’ve never faced bullying for being a writer either ... I still take something away from the message in Glee. Connection. We – or at least I - really need it.

“Are you all writers?”

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How do you like your monsters?

Okay, so I had some other things to post about, but they were going to involve way too much thinking, and my brain is in the shop, so here's a question I've been pondering for some time now...

I don't think there's AN ANSWER, but I'd love to hear what people think.

In the world of fantasy or paranormal or dare I say horror.... do you like a monster you know or something different and unusual?

I look at a lot of the successful books out there and while they did do their own twist on vampires or werewolves or zombies or angels or demons... The monsters were variations of known mythologies.

What if the monster is something entirely new?

How close does a monster (or even a heroic creature) have to be to an already recognizable creature for readers to get attached?

Thoughts? Anyone? Bueller?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Mmmm. Brains.

So my sweetie-pie and I just watched the premiere of The Walking Dead, a new zombie/apocalypse show on AMC. We'd both give it a thumbs up if we weren't afraid of getting them bitten off. Whether we watch more of the season or not depends pretty much on whether or not I have nightmares. Generally, I prefer my zombies funny. Think Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. These zombies? Not so funny.

I'm also really drawn to the apocalypse, or near apocalypse, story, though as people struggle with how to get along with each other and rebuild a world at the same time. My kids and I really enjoyed the first season of Jericho (and interestingly enough, Lennie James appears in both) where the people were figuring out how to survive. It sort of lost us in the second season when it turned into a big conspiracy theory thing.

We also liked Battlestar Galactica, another post-apocalypse type show where people were figuring out how to put a society back together.

Now, I'm pretty sure I'd be one of the first to die in any kind of apocalyptic event. I base this one my stunning deer-in-the-headlights reactions to most situations. By the time I thought to get the shovel out of the garage and take off a zombie's head, he'd be munching on my intestines. So I wouldn't be one of the people rebuilding society. I still sort of like to imagine that I'd manage to be one of them, though, and that I'd be one of the Good Guys.

So. . . how do you feel about these kinds of stories? Which ones do you like? Which ones fell short of the mark for you?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Confidence, Ego and Optimism

I spend a lot of time thinking about ego and confidence and the differences between the two and until recently confidence was the better of the two because, in my opinion, confidence is something you earn. Trying to make yourself better, seeing improvement in your work, being open to criticism and understanding how to cherry pick opinions to match your voice and idea - those are all skills that lead to confidence.

I'm pretty confident in my work. Not confident about my place in the industry, but the work I do - yep, I feel good about it.

Now, optimism is just something we all must share as a whole. Maureen and I get together and bitch a blue streak about the industry, but we're optimistic about our work and it's place in the industry. Not confident, but optimistic. I don't know how to make myself optimistic or how to tell other people how to optimistic - I think optimism is key ingredient to the writer's make up. Otherwise how would we face the blank page every day?

Ego, I thought was kind of bad. Because it was unearned. Or perhaps a false by-product of confidence. But here's the truth - I think it's the most important ingredient to success. We have to believe that the project we are working on is IMPORTANT. Not just to use but other readers. We have to believe, with absolutely no proof that what we're doing is not only good enough - it's great. And while I used to think that ego was something I had to get over and push away - perhaps we have to protect it. We have to quietly with great discipline, nurture it. Because no matter what people say about our work, our faith has to come from some secret place inside ourselves that we can't put a finger on and we don't like to talk about.

I think ego, confidence and optimism are the most important things a writer can have going for them, and they are the first to be crushed and taken away by this industry.

So - where do you stand on those three things? Are you lacking in one area with a surplus in another? Do you agree? Disagree? Want me to shut my egotistical mouth?

Friday, November 05, 2010

We all need a little honesty

We've talked a little on Drunk writer talk about genre hopping and choosing the right genre. The challenge is, picking the genre, and ensuring we, as writers, have the skills to write in that area.

There are authors out there that can write sucessfully across different genres (Maureen can, and we should hate her for it) and right now, I'm trying to contain my jealousy towards those people, but for most of us mere mortals, we really can't switch from suspense driven to character driven.

That's why so many authors say don't chase trends, because that trend may not fit your voice. And it's why we need other writers, or readers, in our lives that can help us figure this stuff out. Or at least confirm if we've made the right decision.

I'm definitely pro critique group, because I honestly don't have the skills to look at my work and see the major failings, not the plot failings, but the tone, or voice failings, because plot I can usually figure out, but the rest is really difficult for me.

And every once in a while, if I try something new, I don't know if it's working until they look at it. I envy the authors that can work independantly and determine this for themselves, but I am not that person.
And when I read a book by an author who has been sucessful in one genre, trying a new genre and the book is falling flat, I wonder, did she had anyone in her life saying, this was not her best work.

And as a side note, and I'm really starting to get repetitive. The Vampire Diaries. Anyone watching? It's so good and it really has this amazing ability to change somewhat annoying characters into amazing characters over the course of a season. Every week it's a lesson in writing genre.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


Molly said something truly profound when we saw each other at NJRW last week. (I don’t know if she remembers – she’d had a few beers, I had a few wines). But it really stuck with me despite the wine. I was moaning and groaning about my WIP, not really sure what it is –romance, mystery, historical fiction, blah, blah. I’m afraid I’m not focused enough. I’m afraid of just about everything right now. And in talking about she said, “What are you expectations? Who do you want to be?”

When I read this book… whose work should this be as good as?

Okay. My first thought was Deanna Raybourn. Her Julia Grey novels are part of what inspired me to want to write this story. I thought… I want to be as good as she is.
I just finished her latest - The Road to Darjeeling. It was, in a word, perfection.

Absolute perfection. The voice, the mystery, the setting, the feel of these people in the late Victorian era, the familial relationships, the surprises and most importantly the romantic elements between Julia and Brisbane. Now that they are married, this might have slipped. It did not. There was just as much conflict, just as much emotion. Which goes to show you can “get a couple together” and still make them interesting.

I read this book and thought F***. I cannot live up to these expectations. I can’t be this good. My writing isn’t as crisp. She does all these small things that are soooo Victorian but of course I can’t use any of it because it’s hers.

Hookay… plan B.

I can’t be Deanna Raybourn… so who can I be? Robyn Carr who was the keynote speaker at NJRW also said another profound thing during her speech. “Write the book you want to read.”

Simple, but important.

So as I was near despair after finishing the perfect book and thinking about what I was going to do I had to stop myself and say what would I change? How do I want to be different? What are the things that are going to make my story standout?
For one Deanna Raybourn gives us this hot, sexy, muscled, hairy-chested hero. I want to take this guy home and make him my sex slave. But any time he and the wife get busy we find the line “he acted on his marital affections” or some crazy euphemism like that. It was perfectly done and to great effect. Always a little tongue in cheek, it told the reader everything you needed to know without the couple actually “getting busy” on page.

And I thought – okay. That’s something that I want to do differently. I want to read a story that gives me everything that hers did and hot sex! (I know I can’t help myself) I also want more POVs. I also want things to be a little dirtier and grittier as I take my characters a little bit out of the world of the gentry.

The moral of the story is – I can’t be her. I can’t be as good as she is. She’d hardly be one of my idol’s if she was a chump though – right? Sure, I can aspire to be better. Who doesn’t do that? But most importantly – I have to be me. (That is so freaking cheesy – I can’t believe I just wrote that.)

You – out there – who do you want to be as good as?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Publishing Survivor

I've been thinking about what Eileen's agent told her to put Eileen's fears of seeming unfocused as a writer to rest. Jumping genres is what publishing survivors do. I really like that. I've been looking at all the romantic suspence, historical and contemporary authors jump from the genre that made them famous into YA and paranormal - and admitedly I've been thinking that they did it either for the cash grab, or because thier numbers were down. And perhaps all of that is true - but in reality, I imagine those authors looked at the chance to try something new with a giant sigh of relief. Or they had an idea that just wouldn't go away and didn't fit into what had given them legions of fans.

How many crime scenes can one person have in them? How many ballroom scenes? After so many years of writing serial killer books I imagine anyone would look to clear their brains and write zombie books for kids or something similar.

We often talk about writing book and then should it sell having to write a bunch more - the same but different. And perhaps we can think down the road for a series and perhaps another series, but I have no idea of what it's like to sit down to book 30 and try to think of a new way for two people to have a conversation about how terrible thier mother's are. That just made me sick to my stomach.

So, maybe people are jumping to YA and Paranormal to make some money or because thier numbers were slipping or maybe they just wanted to do something different. Something all of us take for granted - not that I ever do anything different. But I'm going to. Someday.

So what about you? Have you jumped around? Stayed in the same genre you started? Where do you see yourself jumping?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Old dog. New Tricks.

I recently started working on a new project. It's going to be yet another departure for me. I worry that after forays into chick lit, romantic suspense and urban fantasy, adding yet another sub-genre will make me look like I have Author ADD in the worst way. My editor says it's the mark of a publishing survivor, but she's incredibly nice to me. 

Anyway, while it's true that my process for each sub-genre has been a little bit different, this time it feels REALLY different. I've always written character-driven books, but usually a scene or two will pop in my head as I figure out my characters. I like to think that the scenes have moments that show, rather than tell, what my characters are like. 

Not so much, this time. I've got a sketchbook that I'm toting around with me to jot notes in about characters and places and important ideas. I'm reading a lot and going to some lectures. There have been a few stray lines of dialogue, but no actual scenes. Instead I'm going seriously deep into these people's heads (even though they have no names) and their relationships and their backgrounds. 

I had thought that, by this point, my process was pretty much my process. I thought I was pretty set in my ways. Apparently I was wrong. It's exciting and a bit frightening, but it's nice to know I can twist myself into a new pretzel still.

How about you? Is your process always the same? Or does it change as you change projects?

Friday, October 29, 2010

It's Halloween

I love Halloween. What's not to love, candy and costumes, without the stress of cooking a turkey, or buying a pile of presents.

It helps that I love scary movies, love them. I've seen an embarassing amount, and I hold them to a high standard. They have to try and scare me, not gross me out, or make me squirm in discomfort, but make me jump and get sweaty and nervous from the tension of waiting to see what will happen next.

So in the spirit of Halloween, here is a list of my favourite scary movies.

1) Aliens. No secret, my favourite movie hands down. A war movie in space with the most chilling villains and the strongest movie heroine in a scary movie. Love it.

2) 28 days later. I find Zombie movies pretty boring normally, and I've gone on record with my belied that they are more a disaster movie than horror movie, but this movie I loved. Amazing tension, characters I got totally invested in, and the turn around in the end, which I know some people did not buy, but I completely did. For me the difference between disaster and horror movies are the control the characters have over what is happening to them. In a horror movie, the characters have some semblance of control, and they can eventually turn the tables around on their attackers. In a disaster movie, they are just trying to get out of the way. When the main character goes on the attack in this movie, that's when it became a horror movie to me.

3) The descent - A group of women go spelunking, get lost and things go awry. Loved this for the tension and the atmosphere and how they still managed to differentiate the different characters and none of them were just victims.

4) High Tension - A french movie, and starting from almost the first scene, it's crazy tense and has a really cool ending I did not see coming.

5) Blade 2 - not sure if this technically belongs in hororr, but it's direected by Guillermo del Toro and has some of the most interesting and scary vampire villains ever created.

6) Halloween - the original, watched it again the other day and it still stands up.

7) The Thing - trapped scientists, an alien that can take on any form, and it still scares me.

8) Hellraiser - because what's scarier than a trip to hell and pinhead it all his logical, reasoned calmness is truly scary.

These are mine, and I didn't include jaws, although I love it, because I'm not sure it's horror, and same for Seven and The Silence of the Lambs, but they are scary, and amazing movies.

Did I miss any important ones. I never really loved the Exorcist, and didn't find The Shining to be all that scary. Does that make me a bad person?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Finally a TV romance worth watching!

Have you all been watching Boardwalk Empire? It’s yet another HBO show that now dominates Sunday nights. It’s a period piece set during prohibition times in Atlantic City. Steve Buscemi plays Nucky Thompson – the “Boss” of the city.

Nucky – was a real person who did indeed run the illegal alcohol trade in AC. He was known for big parties, big gestures and show girls. Steve is staying fairly true to this on screen. He’s got a showgirl girlfriend who doesn’t appear to have too many brain cells, but of course there is this other woman… An Irish widow with two children. (Nucky made her a widow when he learned her husband was abusive.)

Through the first few episodes, you can see she admires him and goes to him seeking help for her struggling family. Inexplicably he takes interest in her. He kills her husband, then finds her a job. We can see she is grateful to him but there also seems to be something else there. She’s excited when he comes to see her. She fusses with her appearance.

On his birthday he dances with her at an extravagant party while she dazzles him with her intelligence and wit. Meanwhile his girlfriend is hiding naked in the cake. At the end of this episode the Widow Schroeder steals some lingerie from the dress shop where she works.

The subsequent episode will go down as one of my favorite TV eps ever. The episode is really a mind game between these two characters. The Widow Schroeder wants Nucky’s attention. Nucky has decided he’s got enough complications in his life and the last thing he needs is a temperance supporting suffragette widow with two kids. After all she’s a good woman. And he’s a bad man.

He ignores her at every turn. So she reports a “beer” storage facility to the IRS and names the man running the operation as someone working with Nucky. Of course she’s only doing this because she cares about the temperance movement…. Right!!!!!
Nucky’s man gets arrested in dramatic fashion and we see the Widow Schroeder singing along with her temperance sisters as she and Nucky exchange a glance that is pure genius.

I refer to this as a “I’m not going to be ignored!“ look. Which he returns with an “I believe I underestimated you” gaze. When the knock on her door came late at night I didn’t know if she was going to be fired from the job, beaten up by a gangster or kissed senseless. Nucky went with kissing her senseless. LOVED IT!

The payoff from this episode wasn’t as good as I expected, but I’m still fascinated. The Widow Schroeder is not pure and sweet. She is smart and feisty and very practical. She also strikes me as a woman who will do whatever she needs to survive. Nucky will sleep with anything that moves, has no intention of marrying anyone and making them honest, yet we see this particular woman does something to him. I really hope they continue to make this relationship interesting. They won me over with that one episode.

Well, that and the hats. I love hats!

The point - to me there is NOTHING sexier than two smart people pitting their brains against each other. It takes the physical chemistry to a whole new level.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Interesting Times and Chinese Curses

The times they are a-changing.

My  favorite quote from the NJRW conference last weekend was from Alicia Condon, Editorial Director of the Brava imprint at Kensington.  She pointed out that the line, "May you live in interesting times" comes from a Chinese curse. Yes, a curse.

Given all the conflicting predictions, dire and hopeful, floating around right now about the future of publishing, while the "experts" might not agree on much, there's no denying that the industry is going through some pretty intense changes and will continue to over the near future.

And the curse might lie mostly in the uncertainty. Publishing is stressful enough without all this dang extra uncertainty!

I'm not one to buy into all the dire, sky-is-falling predictions about publishing. I do, however, think that the publishing industry (and authors) need to educate the public--as the music industry did back in the Napster days--that downloading creative media for free, when it hasn't been offered for free by the creator or rights holder, is STEALING.

Yes, some people will always steal, but most people who'd never consider stealing a book from a bookstore might now download a book they find on the internet without batting an eyelash. And I think the generation currently hitting adulthood have been conditioned to think that any content on the internet is free for the taking and should be. So that's an issue... And a big one. But if handled, it shouldn't spell the end of getting paid to write books.

Another negative prediction I've heard that rang true for me, is that publishers might stop printing ANY copies of books that aren't expected to be bestsellers... (They are already cutting back on print runs, big time, and expecting much higher overall sell-throughs.) And this means that many (most) authors might see a day, fairly soon, when we can't actually hold our books... Sad, but...

I also think that, especially for genre fiction which has a huge established fan-base, e-books and e-readers could actually be a boon.

The reason I jump to this conclusion (instead of thinking the sky is falling) is because e-readers make impulse buys so much easier. I recently bought a kindle and I've bought a few books already that I was curious about, and/or wanted to buy to support the author, but that I might not have bought in print because, well, in print then I'd have to deal with storing the physical book and anyone who's been to my house knows I already have a serious book storage problem and it's becoming hard to spot my bed behind the huge mountain of books that surrounds it.

So, as much as I know I can't predict the future, I do expect that e-readers will lead avid readers to buy and read more books, not fewer. On the other hand, readers who tend to pick up one or two books a year, might not buy an e-reader, and if the publishers stop printing mid-list authors, this reader will only ever see the few books that retailers put in stores... But then again, the reader who only buys one or two books a year, was probably only ever picking up those bestselling books, anyway.

Who the heck knows...

But one thing is certain. Those of us trying to survive in the publishing world do live in interesting times.

Consider yourself cursed. :)

Has anyone else bought an e-reader? Which one? How do you like it?
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